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Collectives In Atomised Time

Doug Ashford
Naeem Mohaiemen

Collectives In Atomised Time

Doug Ashford
Naeem Mohaiemen

Peripheries Without Centre
Ramon Parramon, IDENSITAT

Through everyday activities, the temporary use of public
space creates many different forms of occupation in the
form of artefacts, activities or actions planned from a
critical perspective of the system. Some of these forms
are regulated and therefore happen through repeated and
clearly institutional models; others do so outside rules,
limiting them to shorter-term projections. A third way looks
for existing gaps or intermediate spaces in which new
activities and uses and alternative approaches can grow
by making use of the system’s own mechanisms. From a
cultural perspective, and specifically from the artistic point of
view, projects emerge to add innovations through a search
for previously unarticulated activities. The environment and
social context leads to a conception of the organisation of
cultural space as an area that depends on social activity;
but this social activity can be rethought and revamped by
reinventing cultural activity. Driven by this desire to push
for changes in the environment of cultural production by
occupying existing gaps, a number of people, associations
and collectives have worked from different positions, in
many cases distant from the production centres with their
consolidated hegemony.

The dominant cultural line talks of the blurring of the
notion of the periphery, looking to the democratisation
of new technologies, the ease of moving from one

The situation of shifted global realities after 2001 led to many people being detained through their perceived race or religion markers. Reducing the distance between the centre and the periphery at the level of cultural production has been one of the goals pursued by IDENSITAT. the presence of the media and the legitimisation of artistic practices – some activities. an artistic project that links the role of art in public space to revamping cultural policies in order to create fresh mechanisms to mediate between artistic production. the irregularities. along with their sudden visibility in the public fear sphere. but several different centres distributed throughout the territory. programs and projects move in this environment at a fixed distance from the centre. The lack of to another. When Naeem Mohaiemen started collecting notes regarding collective practices in response to political crises. which tend to follow uniform or unidirectional approaches. Not just one centre. the border-less world of capital. or the disappearance of certain referents that made up the centre of culture. we have to keep talking of cultural peripheries. because – due to questions of territorial location. Nevertheless. The subject matter itself is based on research around national security panic in the United States and Europe. we thought this would be a way to enrich some of the goals pursued by IDENSITAT. different sectors in society and the public resources managed by different administrations. and the constant stoking .

Collectives form from shared affinities or are thrown together by socio-political situations. lends context to an open and ongoing debate on contemporary artistic practice. This danger goes back to the ability of art (and its institutions) to convert images and concepts into commercial fetishes. journalism and activism. Chin-Tao Wu[1] has analysed the gradual privatisation of the arts in the UK and the US in the 1990s as giant corporations used the free market to conquer art spaces at the expense of public institutions. at the expense of the original goals.of fear are questions tackled in all the work done by Visible Collective between 2004-2006. A conversation that starts raising questions on the lines between art. There is a danger when the mechanisms of art incorporate deliberate political investigations. Maintaining one’s independence to reach a higher intellectual level and forge a critical capacity able to transform the system itself is a way of swimming against the current. Group Material and Visible Collective. The conversation between Naeem Mohaiemen and Doug Ashford spans some of the questions derived from seeing art as a political praxis. The distance in time that separates the work by the two collectives. . Group Material has used the mechanisms of contemporary art to raise questions about the manipulation of political power to create and maintain a state of globalised panic. From a different period. Creating alternatives that involve collective organisation is one of the possible ways forward.

[1] Chin-Tao Wu. offer a multifaceted dimension to political activity expressly related to artistic practice. Later on. editors. which worked from 1981-1996. Minneapolis. catalysed some of these attitudes. New York. Collectivisation of artistic practice is not a new strategy. It has been a tactic used to put the individualisation of the artist and the subjectivisation of art in a state of crisis in order to introduce a kind of organised practice with clearly political objectives. A dialogue that centres on key points of the collective experience with a bearing on the public sphere. Verso Books.Interdisciplinary collectives. and still true now. Collectivism after Modernism: the Art of Social Imagination after 1945. or perhaps we could say undisciplined collectives. 2007 . it has been in place since the start of the 20th century[2]. and Visible Collective. The length of time that separates them is overcome through the dialogue they maintain. came the construction of the social space as an artistic practice. which worked for a much shorter period of 2004-2006. London. through subjects that are often peripheral to the habits of more established artistic practices. 2002. see: Blake Stimson and Gregory Sholette. University of Minnesota Press. [2] To expand. which incorporated grassroots work as an explicit process of artistic work in both form and content. Group Material. London. Privatising Culture: Corporate Art Interventions since the 1980s.

1988-91 Jochen Klein. 1981-96 Julie Ault.Group Material Doug Ashford. 1995-96 Mundy McLaughlin. 1979-87 Visible Collective Naeem Mohaiemen Ibrahim Quraishi Anandaroop Roy Jee-Yun Ha Donna Golden Aimara Lin Vivek Bald Kristofer Dan-Bergman JT Nimoy Sehban Zaidi Anjali Malhotra Aziz Huq Sarah Olson . 1995-96 Felix Gonzalez-Torres. 1989-91 Tim Rollins. 1979-86 Karen Ramspacher. 1979-96 Thomas Eggerer.

Group Material .








Visible Collective .








The Dia Art Foundation. Democracy Wall Boston.) AIDS Timeline. A Project by Group Material. September 1988-January 1989. (organized for “In and Out of Place”). Art & Auction. Queens. September 1988-January 1989. (organized for Artists Call against US Intervention in Central America. University Art Museum. 1993 . AIDS: A Case Study. Contemporanea. The Dia Art Foundation.Group Material (images) Timeline. (Organized as a collaborative project for DAY WITHOUT ART 1990 by Visual AIDS and the following publications: Afterimage. University of California at Berkeley. NY. New York. 1984. The Museum of Fine Arts. September 1988-January 1989. Art in America. A Chronicle of US Intervention in Central and Latin America. Democracy. Matrix Gallery. High Performance. New York. Arts. P. October and Shift). January. October. . Boston.S.March. 1991) AIDS Timeline.1 The Institute for Art and Urban Resources. fragment from Shift magazine. Artforum. Democracy. (see Democracy. Art New England. Bay Press. November 1989-January 1990. New York. The Dia Art Foundation. Education.January 1994. Democracy. Americana. The Whitney Museum (organized for the Whitney Biennial). Election.

2004 (part of group show “Fatal Love: South Asian American Art Now”). digital print. 2006. Part 3. or How To Really Read The Law. New York. Irvine. Prudent Juris. American Gothic. print installation. Project Row House. window installation. When An Interpreter Could Not Be Found. shredded Abu Ghraib photos. 2006. Queens Museum of Art. UC Irvine Gallery. Liverpool. 2004 It’s Safe To Open Your Eyes Now. mixed media. New York. digital video. Project Row House. mixed media. Patriot Story. Nahnu Wahaad but Really Are We One?. New York. 2006.Visible Collective (images) Casual Fresh American Style. Houston. mixed media. Queens Museum of Art. Liverpool FACT Museum. Houston. It’s About Who You Know & Who You Hang With. 2006. UC Irvine Art Gallery. mixed media installation. Whitney Biennial. Irvine. 2005. . 2006. series of 45 projections.

can you spell out the context for Visible Collective. what were you reacting to? I get the sense from earlier things you said. this idea of the “accidental” collective. Doug: I’ll get into Group Material as we progress. My feeling is that the specific reality within which our Visible Collective project formed. The context within which Group Material worked was different. The debates around art & politics & reportage & agitprop & poetics. were very specific to the 00’s. and the results were also. How did you form. A linear narrative about a man who was incarcerated after 9/11. Naeem: The collective originated from a film that I was working on with Ibrahim Quraishi (Compagnie Faim De Siecle).. Jawad Metni (Pinhole Pictures) and Donna Golden (video artist). operated. and ended.. But after showing 1 . we’ve had many conversations about the future of politically engaged “art”. Even the way in which we almost became commodified within a category of “collective art practices” is specific to an over-heated market.Doug’s Brooklyn kitchen Naeem: Doug. But first.

Kristofer Dan-Bergman (photographer). at the Queens Museum. and protest rally tactics that informed this particular politics. We had two supportive curators. Jaishri Abhichandani and Prerana Reddy. Anandaroop Roy (cartographer). and then go back to what they were doing. Jee-yun Ha (sculptor). Anjali Malhotra and Sehban Zaidi (both filmmakers). we felt that the process of festivals. 2 . It was super informal. text prints and sound pieces. Vivek Bald (underground DJ). where you wait until ten short films screen before you can get into a discussion (and by then people had walked off to the open bar) was too linear and one at the Against Empire film festival. list goes on. So we started expanding the project into a series of installations. and our circle kept expanding and adding more friends. confusing questions. we tried to coalesce into one group. we wanted to integrate our research.. From all our various practices. which is where the name Visible Collective came from. Aimara Lin (Not In Our Name national coordinator). Lacking a structure. unused fragments. Sarah Olson (San Francisco radio producer). People would join and do a little project..

Naeem: Then in 1983 the work you did with Artists Call was specifically responding to the crisis in Latin America. man! The dominant interests that were maintaining the totality of panic. and store-bought objects into exhibitions. Doug: Mentality of panic. We were bringing artifacts. which although only a fraction of its current scale. dynamic and changing contribution to the urban fabric. as we were responding to the post 2001 security panic.all of you were reacting to that. crashing boundaries between “high” and “low” culture.Doug: Well. Group Material wanted to create a context for art that could be part of the ongoing. The group worked collaboratively internally but also created a context for larger collaborations based on the specificity of site and time. We were always trying to get the museum to represent a larger. was totally a social distortion. Group Material was founded in 1979 as an antidote to the mercantilist nightmare of the gallery system. There is a relationship between that totality of panic and the contemporary 3 . among many other issues. documentary material. more diverse vision of culture. And Group Material was later working within the context of the AIDS crisis.

and then we curate political art. I do get a little bit concerned over the historicization of social practices. shouldn’t an institution respond to your critique: Well what more do you want from us? You’re not happy if we don’t talk politics. you know. and board members of museums). to our own doubts about what social collectives or what social production means to our constituencies now. who insisted that politics not just be a spectacle defined for already existing art audiences. You have to put your 4 . you’re not happy with that either! Doug: Yes I know I am a bit skeptical. And it relates also. They could have a hundred shows. and older managers of institutions ( institutional nightmare that we are in right now. I think intimately. as we discussed with the Public Address project[1]. older artists. in the 1980s. and it wouldn’t accomplish anything as long as they are unwilling to see how their own productions of meaning fits into a newly armored city open only to a heavily policed creative class Naeem: But Doug. directors. Because social production within the art world has become so instrumentalized. it allows dominant institutions to put on the cloak of political responsibility without even doing anything. There were.

Naeem: Well how does that translate for the museum? How does the museum put its money where its mouth is? Doug: It allows there to be work going just beyond the image and the exhibition. Allow work that instigates direct politics to happen within the museum walls and in other sites. every one in their own where your mouth is in relation to an anti war movement. in health insurance. etc. I’m also part of the audience that is made utilitarian and instrumental in terms of delivering a message of artists working FOR museums and FOR audiences.which was the Iraq conflict for that era. 5 . That ends up being ungenerous to everyone involved. because remember there is also a politics to our productions on a local level– in real estate. to a pro-labor movement. Also. Meaning that we are also sequestered– even if we are collectivized– we are sequestered into ideas of what it means to make work that is dissociated from audiences as implicated in the culture they make for themselves. in studio workings. to a “US out of El Salvador” movement. help in decentralizing the practices of artist themselves.

to keep aesthetics out of radical democratic practices. because it didn’t/doesn’t come from that intention.Naeem: That’s a dynamic that is also tied up in forms. I don’t make such claims for either Visible Collective or my solo practice. But we know what factor stops all this. sought and found forms that are harder to appropriate. such as 16 Beaver. have. Doug: Well don’t get stuck in thinking of certain forms as more or less.impervious and self defined. 6 .it’s the scariest thing in the know. But I know others. The ongoing need for mediagenic discourse founded in market fundamentalism. no? I don’t mean just because of your activity. You could be an abstract painter and still be politically invested. as part of their could be invested in terms of how you make those pictures. the aesthetic decision you make. There are forms/practices we can choose to work in that are much harder to convert into a commercial location. I have acted on social practices modeled from the endless inclusions seen in a painting.

But we were dealing with slightly different internal issues. We had grassroots activists like Aimara Lin. than visual production about the same subjects within museum walls.however separated 7 . where we learn we are more than ourselves . and we also frayed as a Collective because not everyone was invested in the museum space. There is a connection between the liberating estrangement produced in collective practice. So there was (maybe?) some estrangement from the perceived ethereality of political art practice. the museum has its own social capital. And even those of us who were invested could not make a strong argument for why others should continue to be so.and the investment of artists in aesthetic production . which seems more and more corporate every day– but why not work to change it? Much of this contradiction was discussed in the “Who Cares” project I organized with Creative Time in New York[2].Naeem: The market is something that intervenes fairly directly. and lawyers like Aziz Huq. And there was a time when some members consciously decided their time was better spent marching outside INS or pursuing lawsuits on behalf of post-9/11 detainees. Doug: Yes of course.

it’s ironic that I would be estranged at the time at which I actually have the connections to be able to create differences within institutions. Pictures are good at that! It seems to me that people who I empathize with are these days rarely involved with the institutional matrix and consumption frenzy of the New York art world. Maybe it’s a good time to be invested in re-thinking the “good community” of art profits and endless war from the standpoint of intimate speculation. Doug: Maybe it’s even the world art market. Naeem: Or the culture of the world art market. are on a kind of rollercoaster of production in which there’s little space for the contemplative.from institutions of social change that production may seem. I have been looking recently for new definitions of aesthetics that might model resistance in a new way. by definition. I don’t know because I don’t fly so much anymore. But it means that institutions. Doug are you that estranged at this point? Doug: Well. Naeem: Wait. or in a very old way like in a painting. for the 8 .

So many banal.. for the question of divergent artistic methodologies. momentary frisson works featuring hijabi women. When Lil Kim poses in a hijab-bikini combo. But within five short years. because we felt the power in saying “we” and “Muslim” and “collective” and all that. the “muslim artist”. identified ourselves as Muslim artists and activists. in that specificity it can be seen that convenient fictional categories of cultural value. A toothless and ahistorical moment. the question of subaltern audiences that are yet undefined and don’t fit into any of these nice identity-based packages that were developed so conveniently for our paying consumption. But that’s a personal transition from when we. putting Arabic within the museum wall seemed like a defiant gesture. back in 2004. In 2003. what other path remains to mine that exhausted metaphor/icon? 9 . Naeem: The only way I can respond to that is through satire.g. Naeem: E. are real buttresses to the institutions committed to the oppression. although ridiculous. Doug: Yes. deliberately...question of developmental politics that might lead to popular fronts. that whole thing has become fetishized.

artists. Did you have an answer for them? Naeem: Well. I can think of better use of my time.” Aimara Lin was worried that the work would be interpreted as saying that African Americans should also be profiled. coming from a direct action tradition. Because of it’s location (deep inside Queens. in particular an immigrant audience. activists. the first project of Visible was at Queens Museum of Art[3].” Doug: And they were right to ask that question. hard to get to) it gets a much more diverse audience.and that influenced our work. Of course the work was about the absurdity of racial profiling. but 10 .. lawyers.But. more uncomfortable. and the work became more ambiguous.. and that museum is very unusual and different. period. There was always that question: “What is the point of installing work for three weeks in this gallery. it reacted to newer settings. the question of audience. Later as the project expanded and traveled. And that certainly made some in the Collective. When we installed “Driving While Black Becomes Flying While Brown. let’s go back to what happened when we had a heterogeneous group in Visible.

This is when the “why do this” question started emerging. Which is people finding that the institutional setting for work has complicated ideological formations that suffocate the politics. Doug: But that’s someone arguing over the complexity of the politics of representation. I remember you told me that the Collective felt that the workings of the art world were problematic. Museums seem so interested in everything but always so far away from anything. That is one of the goals of art production. I mean if your work caused a group of people in the museum to have a set of positively alienated responses about what it meant to do racial profiling. as is traditional within protest politics. But there’s a different issue we referred to earlier. Which is that increasingly art institutions as more and more open to radical politics seem farther and farther away from speaking to real constituencies in any real languages. feelings. 11 . than that’s great. well then they have to rethink their senses of expectation and wasn’t spelled out in large ALL CAPS letters. Even if it happened within the group of people who were producing the work. affect about race.

what are we doing with these representations? And why us. And then you start wondering. This unmeasurable moment could be a gauge for social experience too! That lack of stability would always exist as a moment of dissensus. we got so invested in the sublime? It was because the sublime acted as a way to focus philosophical expectation. Isn’t that why. but repeating the same work. Getting invited to show in various venues. or refigure or re-represent.agreement on the meaning of a work? Doug: Yeah..Naeem: I think we started getting a little uncomfortable with the “popularity” of the project. at the beginning it’s quite gratifying. or the lack of meaning that art has to life. When artists work together we can ask “What do we have to do to realize that art brings life back to 12 .. in the 18th century. Naeem: . of where we never come to an agreed and stable place but still live together. in the sense that it was something eternal that we couldn’t measure. why so many times? Are we becoming “safe” dissent? Doug: I just want to say these are the conversations that have been happening in the imaginations of artists since the enlightenment.

“Dude. The clarity of positions people yearn for. and they feel that they are rigid. because it then produces antagonistic responses between people in other groups. the eternal is god. no. the eternal is nature. Doug: And this is what my students sometimes don’t get. eliminating conversations that end up falling into a kind of mysticism led by priestly interpreters. I see art as the beginning of democratic discourse: a discourse that upends certainty and is upsetting to those whose power depends on absolutes.” and so” And so that instability of meaning becomes a political thing. 13 ... which have no relationship to social practice or social know what I’m saying. What I’m trying to add in there is. class based. we have to accept that interpretation itself is a politics. Naeem: “I know which side I’m on”. And they are right that art may have been carried away from social production due to the histories of 1950’s formalist art criticism. They look at those 18th century discussions about beauty.” “No. if we want to have discussions about how art takes on meaning.

So finally I reached her. there was a point when you told me that collaborators did not want to stay as involved because the museum was a “waste of time”. Naeem. and this was a contingent that tried to get near the White House and got arrested..But wait.” That did my head in a bit.. Then she paused and said. because I started wondering. “This is what I need to be spending my time on right now.well nothing 14 .. and she disappeared for four days right before it was due. well should I be doing what I’m doing? At a distance of some time. I feel that there was a point at which physically protesting the Bush war became its own theatrical exercise without end because obviously the administration was just. and the first thing she told me was.. ok? Naeem: There was a specific moment. when the Visible Collective was going on. and Walid Raad generously invited us to present something in the “Media Lounge” of FACT.Liverpool FACT Museum was doing a restrospective of Atlas Group’s body of work. Aimara and others were gathering research material for the piece. “I just got out of jail.” “Why? What were you doing?” Of course she was in DC protesting the war.

“Hmm.. So that’s where critique work needs to be done. the more individuals were saying.” Doug: Finland. the most popular impulse is reflexive anti-American politics on European soil. In some ways. But. And especially when we started showing in Europe. the decision makers are American. she felt that going and putting her body on the lawn.” 15 ..was much more useful then an art show.or wherever she put it. two countries away from Norway... when one Collective member emailed me: “We’re showing in Finland? What exactly is this going to do?” The further away the project went geographically. because people felt that the theatre of war is America... You could make an event that would make the Nobel community say.would ever change their mind. maybe we should give the peace prize to someone from Bangladesh.). I remember one hilarious moment. “What are we doing? What are we doing in. They are going to be sitting in Florida geriatric lawn chairs two decades from now. still arguing that this was the good war (like McNamara.. they decide the Nobel Prize. You are not exactly going against dominant trends to critique Bush in Europe..

You know. They see art institutions as not having any real interest and value in and of themselves. They give them tenure. They did give the Nobel to Dr. Naeem: No. don’t worry. Doug: Yeah. And maybe you see the museum as only a tactical extension of the street.Naeem: Ha ha. my body and emotional life is invested in what aesthetic and political transference 16 .. academic credentials. but as tools to maintain the legitimacy and validity of their work. I go to the Met [Metropolitan Museum of Art] every Friday if I can. Doug: Let’s talk about political artists who tactically use the museum venue. Doug..but I can safely say Visible Collective had no link to that. ways to make their lives continue. it’s only the Met in particular. I know that’s just my own hang-up. I guess. I go to other museums. not entirely. yes very funny. Yunus in 2006. I mean. Doug: Well that’s fine. it’s stuck in my head as an ossified institution. Naeem: I don’t go the Met though. I have tactical artist friends who don’t go to the museums. I am sure reality is very different.

for this friend of yours to say.. We could say protest politics have their own limitations. So what’s my point? My point is that. Naeem: Trevor Paglen talks about protest politics having their own aesthetic. I am reminded of this by art. Doug: Look.which we should add to the beginning of our conversation.. Then we could also point out that your ideas about the museum as a private and regulated institution are a little bit naive. it has people affecting them and is in turn effecting others. I mean theoretically we could argue with her.” Naeem: . 17 . it has habitus.can accomplish and has accomplished for humanness and for me. We are going to play this out on different terrain. “Oh. And to give it up.. the museum is not a correct instrument.. the museum is like all public institutions. to say. its bourgeois” is sort of. Not often with contemporary art. It’s a cultural bank. it has all these effects. “Look.on the streets Doug: On the streets. and failing or succeeding by that aesthetic. a naive way of allowing it to continue to be bourgeois.

I mean. You know them. You know. They occupy very singular niches in the information industry from which they design my consumption. right. People who review South Asian films for HBO to see how effective they are. “Why are you involved in this museum. in a world which is increasingly based on the organization of service economies. And that is. The word de-professionalization kind of covers it.we all end up seeing both our own intellect. It is as simple as that. The word interdisciplinary doesn’t really quite cover it. right? And collaboration can mean that you’re with people who are saying “Why are you doing that?” Like that friend of yours says. they work for Time Warner. information economies. and its labor relationship to institutions very narrowly. Naeem?” 18 . It is that working with others allows you to have an effective and emotional realization of what it means to not accept the given context of knowledge that you are working under.spectacular economies. for me this is the thing about the collective that is really valuable. There is nothing more transgressive than a friend. Friendship and affinity give us the capacity to invent new languages. We know these people because our ideas are their profits. them. I know people like this- they’re my ex-students.

you are designing experiences for corporate parties” What was a site for social critique has been turned into a kind of unbending factory for social capital. with the artists as an interior decorator for power. Doug: Well you know my romanticism about the commune: the old days when art and life almost became the same thing. and with others who were involved in the early years. 19 . For me the collaboration with Group Material was beautiful: it was an exchange of intention with Julie Ault. Today I am also more scared of collaboration as part of the instrumentalization of art.Naeem: I don’t know that I ever answered that question. and Felix Gonzales Torres. of artistic intention. social capital and so forth. Still working it out in my head and my work. using it as branding. Because our work wasn’t based in a modification of the possibilities of intention. because of the ever present idea of other people Just get sixteen freshman students together and ask them: “What does it mean to make work in a museum?” and they will answer you: “Its fucked up.

This is why I make. And of course. and then more and more people joined. And then we said.. And we said well. if we had thought that it would last beyond that one show at Queens Museum of Art. And I try to remind them of the histories of radical dis-recognition that artists have provided. bla bla. For Visible. Naeem: At that point it was going to be ten different people.. we might have sat around and thought up a more expansive name.It’s a pretty simplistic political equation.. Naeem: Or temporary collectives. we can’t have an endless list of people on the wall. Doug: Group Material was also not so pre-planned. I was a senior at Cooper. lets call it Visible would be like a professional affiliation. and I was going to their projects. I always try to make. Making visible the invisible Muslim underclass in post 9/11 America. 20 . Doug: . There was an original group that was very large. It just shows you how impromptu the whole thing was. there were two of us working together. ok. the point about de-professionalization becoming possible through collectivization.

and the Warhol Foundation funds a lot of good work now. There were others who saw it as a kind of stepping-stone to careers. 21 .and trying to attend meetings because of work that I had done while I was in school. There were a group of artists who wanted the program to be very particular and specific in relationship to the idea of a feminist program within the research of aesthetic and social production. including political work. People can end up funding projects. as a welder for Macy’s. Andy Warhol had one ultimate career. And also because I had been organizing in a Union at a very young age. I was just a very typical communist avant-gardist with an underpaying job. and having a greater independent voice. Naeem: Well having a career in the arts can help all this. and I was interested in certain kinds of art work that proposed a coalescing of the idea of the values of a labor movement with the values of aesthetic investigation that modernity provided. that original configuration of Group material was very large and fell apart after the first year over a number of issue. The point is. It was very wonderful. So.

The point I’m trying to make is that I don’t care so much any more what you call it. Barbara Kruger was critically asked why she had “sold out” by joining Mary Boone gallery. that doesn’t excuse others from using that same argument to do things that are opportunistic and instrumentalized.watching your career and modeling relationships in relation to an idea of success designed by others. we had a very different experience. after an artist talk.I care what it does to enunciate life.Doug: Sometime in the early 80’s. where it felt at one point that we had become this “Muslim artist” 22 . Naeem: Oh. the proof is in the work. Visible Collective become a gilded cage for us. It was a perfect moment because Barbara could remind the questioner that not all artists have the luxuries of either trust funds or tenure to be able to mange a career. right? We really can starve! But at the same time.. But many folks back then left the artworld when the economic stakes became so high. The proof is not in the discourse around the work. The capitalization of our labor was and still is hard to bear.. Our relation to the means of production is’s just too much for some of us. And the notion that one has to constantly be involved in spectacle management.

Doug: If shifting allegiances are what’s going to create the possibility for democracy within cultural institutions.. Doug: But that’s because you did organize your work around that subject.symbol/icon. aesthetically. economically. 23 . It was issue oriented. you know what I mean? And before that. and those politics are valuable politics at certain times. everybody wanted the Humvee. It was a temporary collective. why not the market? Because the market is what does that. culturally. Naeem: We were sliding into the politics of “I am”. It’s tactical and important and works at certain times. who should keep working exclusively on post 9/11 trajectories.. everybody wants a Prius. Naeem: But it also begins suffocating within a short period. And here’s two completely different moments. Doug: Right. All of a sudden. which worried me. Markets create shifting allegiances in value.

I’m being realpolitik about it. you can’t get outside the market! Well just because you can’t get outside the market. A rhetorical question that I am trying to figure out– why the idea of democracy is now linked so much only to the ideas of the diversity that can provided by rationalism. you can be in your niche. But I bring up the question over and over again of what market fundamentalism really does. Naeem: But within that diversity. well. Because that diversity and its idea of flexible consensus is the same as we knew it in the Reagan era. doesn’t mean you have to be in the market without having spirited dissidence. I don’t have any illusions that anyone is going to dismantle capitalism within my lifetime. or even the capitulation of a developer like Richard Florida. what would we make it make everyone want? Doug: I’m not saying do or do not use the market as an effect in making work. whether through the ”new beauty” moment. the Republicans’ automatic democracy. who says.a controlled nightmare. So we need to make some sort of 24 . and then participate in the market on your terms.Naeem: But if we used the market like you suggest.

You know. try to get things done that. And the solution might be found even in Bataille’s sacrificial economies. They would have to. should I spend my energy on symbolic action against capitalism– symbolic actions that won’t lead to the utopian endgame– or should I participate. it is possible to tell stories around political moments that inform us.those are the existing funding matrices. you know. As Habermas says. even within the market. even the market can fund. And. Well. Not directly. That’s how Visible was possible. and find our safe space within or alongside the market. Doug: Sure. in my art and life. actually.truce/accomodation with it. Doug: I’m still devoted to an idea of displacing capital with aesthetics. 25 . but through the institutions that supported it. And those institutions had corporate donors. Naeem: Since it’s here. the unfinished modern project presents you with a model of subjectivity in saying we imagine a different world in our art. because it was a funded project. Modern aesthetics in particular. I personally decided to participate.

And the idea is. the idea of Group Material’s critique of the museum in the beginning seemed so unpalatable to many people– the NEA held up our first grant because we painted the walls red. how things then get changed and so forth. Naeem: You’re joking surely? Doug: For us. Sure. very simply. We didn’t say red stands for the dictatorship of the proletariat. very perfect: “we are rejecting the neutral color of white. Naeem: Well. We didn’t say that red stands for the passion of the open heart.” We didn’t say red stands for anything. the idea of red walls were. isn’t there a way we can imagine together? Why do these things always have to exist as a sort of compromising relationship to dominant culture through individuality and the false autonomy of art? I know the theories of subculture. I mean. very symbolically. I’ve experienced it. what did they think it stood for? Doug: The NEA thought it stood for left centered labor politics. Naeem: This was sometime in the 1980s? 26 .

you barely know now when you’re interpolating the agendas of power! That’s why marxists called it false consciousness. what I am trying to point out is that these days. the politics of culture has changed. As Felix used to say: You don’t know what you could have with that cracker.I always have felt that revealing them. You don’t know that if you asked for jam on your cracker.. because now. Doug: Yes. sure. the way ideology works without such clashes. 27 .. no one would think that. Red is just a color baby. when you’re eating the body of Christ. right– an infidel– or a schizophrenic! Naeem: You mean when you have the wafer in your mouth in church? That’s what you’re calling the cracker? You’re cracking me up! Doug: See what I’m saying? The schisms within existing beliefs about what makes us human are hard to see. You don’t know that you could think of it differently.not when Che is on Soho hipster tees. Naeem: Ok.. But on a different level.. you would either be a total rebel.Doug: In 1983 I believe it was.

This is what Caravaggio did. It is very vogue now to declare the worlds of aesthetics and power as impermeable and as I have said before.revealing the ideologies in may be my age and my relationship to new technologies.. he is clearly brilliant but why is he foregrounded today? Why does he fit well enough now to be an Art Forum cover but never before? Remember everything in culture happens for a reason. this is very convenient for the economic determinists on both sides of the aisle. but it seems that so much art these days is always designed to fit well. Why does contemporary art seem to fit so well into the way things already are? Take Ranciere.. And in this art world today it doesn’t seem to be very important for many to be thinking of how false and limiting the new definitions of human nature have become.what Watteau did. In a way the denaturalizing of a limiting authority is always in artwork. 28 . These days I am remembering Marshall Berman[4] who was a good and early friend to Group Material and always asked us to see how culture is used to create larger social realities for people. is part and parcel of what we are supposed to do as artists.

. it wasn’t even politically cogent. “We’re pretending. It might be psycho dynamic on my part. because I don’t know these folks” “These are not my people. Naeem: You were worried about keeping your “purity” intact? Doug: No. personally there was always a block there. It was more psycho-dynamic.and at the same time prevents affective beauty from ever finding a space we can use on a daily basis. I think.” A lot of it has to do. with anxiety over class cultures. I’ve never found a place in figuring out how to make publicity culture really work. But I am envious of those who can maintain critical practices that are viable in the market regardless of its overarching distortions. I don’t belong here in this museum opening. But don’t you ever have this feeling? You’re sort of sitting with people and they start a conversation about something like Hotels in Paris or luxury cars or something. A lot of is very self-conscious so yes in a way about “purity”. and I really cannot pretend I know what they’re talking about. 29 .It’s curious to me the way that the market makes ideas fit so well that in fact it distorts humanity. We don’t belong here.I’ve never been comfortable with it.. It was more like.

it was sort of traditional 1950’s American progressive liberalism. is that why? Doug: Maybe its because I always worked. My father was an academic who refused to work for the State Department. They thought the world would change.Naeem: I actually get more class conscious in Dhaka than New York Doug: Well. It wasn’t class politics per se because my parents were part of a middle class ethical rebellion. But none of this was ever discussed in terms of class in real terms. I’m the child of educators and civil servants who had a certain amount of radical politics in relationship to the civil rights movement in the 60’s and the parallel anti-war movement. my mother marched on Washington and organized for tenants’ rights. I worked in movie theatres. As a mover. Sadly this was a huge movement you know that is these days hard to see. I worked as a welder for many years where I tried to unionize and learned 30 . Did you have a blue- collar job. Naeem: That’s interesting. I had always assumed you came from a blue-collar background because of the way you identify yourself now.

Naeem: Oh. I sometimes look to auto and bio for inspiration.a lot. In the 70’s as a teenager there was an idea of a mass cultural identification with a subjectivity based in constantly flexible difference. The idea of something being provisional.that just because a collective is temporary does not mean that it is a failure. It was the culture of such heterogeneity that became an obsession for people like me. is actually one of the definitions of community politics for me. Naeem: There’s also the romance of the working class always... But isn’t that why we call it class conciousness? I also see conciousness as cultural. The idea of communities of concern. So that’s where my blue collar identification comes from. Let’s go back to our earlier discussion. based on contingency. Doug: I’m committed to romance matching up with reality! Look. groups of people who come together 31 . Doug: No we need to move away from this. we’re getting too much into the autobiographical now.

“look. And the idea that your one-issue politics is never going to coalesce into a popular front is something that has caused the American left to despair from the get go. I think it’s important for those of us who were involved. “Oh.” Single-issue politics do not bother me.” And it’s not “failure” to stop. trying to represent activist aesthetic work. that is where community politics started. we raised a lot of money. Naeem: But when they’re short term and they end. which is with Artists Call. we should have gone on longer”? Doug: No! Not at all. “Fine. I’ve seen that. It’s not like the idea goes away. They have been completely effective in creating changes in American consciousness. It’s not like all of a sudden you wake 32 . so there’s no point. to put those politics behind us and to not say. we have a lot of institutional weight. now its time to stop. rather.around particular problems. And you know there’s this romantic moment that I’ve brought up over and over again. Jon Hendricks of Guerilla Art Action Group said. in a sense. which was a finite project. you’re letting other people pick up this thing from another view point. do you feel. you’re not part of a larger movement.

etc. You become your own mini pop-art assembly line. so there’s lots of work to do. a weird fantasy that it only functions as total consensus.up in the morning and there’s no Empire.popular. or an activist-artist. There is no singular pulse of America. no I’m the Muslim. Naeem: And actually you can make space for others to do work. “You’re the Muslim. Because sometimes if you are the artist collective that everyone keeps calling whenever they either want a Muslim. And these are actually conversations. etc. Doug: There’s this mistake about democracy. And we don’t have to get overly theoretical to know that actually democracy was developed to allow antagonism and difference and conflict to all live at the same time in a social body. You’re the bad Muslim. And I know that every day people get up and say. and I’m the good Muslim”. or someone doing work around 9/11 on the panel. ongoing. you’re actually blocking others. There is no holy moment that somehow translates all my experiences. You know what I mean? The hierarchy of power is pretty big. antagonistic 33 . There is no existing totalizing representation of people or of will that is not crushing to imagination.

a lot of museums wanted it who had remained silent during the worst part of the crisis. 34 . Hopefully that will then signal other institutions that they too should open up to the idea of these shifting moments and definitions and identities and call in other people. Now perhaps a problem is that artist have become the experts in representing dialogue in museums only. “Oh. so we can go to them. they represent that.” I remember this after AIDS Timeline. This is what art can remind us.discourse over the value of people’s lives. ok. For me a discursive act is by definition beautiful- it is both represented by parliamentary politics. We wanted the exhibition to be like the comparison of ideas in a socio-political exchange. So maybe. and aesthetic judgment: a great enlightenment project. so what if the collective retires? Maybe that’s a good thing! We can take the discourse somewhere else. that group there. Group Material based much of our rhetoric on this idea of the dialogue does not have to take part in the rest of life. We wanted the museum to be a conversation.

35 .the ground has moved. So there’s a tremendous amount of work out there now.. I remember when that was the 9/11 case everyone was protesting against. books. immersive work around the topics that Visible was exploring. You can remember a very recent time when no one even wanted to breathe the word “extraordinary rendition. It just. That MBA term: paradigm shift. I remember coming back to New York this spring. I was going through my 20th obsessive viewing of Donnie Darko. research. And now there is so much material out. Chitra Ganesh & Mariam Ghani’s Index Of The Disappeared. At that time we were desperate for source material. after being in Bangladesh for a year. newspapers.” But by now that policy has been so thoroughly discredited that it’s become mainstream to oppose art. Trevor Paglen with Torture Taxi. In 2003.. visual material.Naeem: There are by now a lot of people doing intense. Even Steve Kurtz/Critical Art Ensemble won an acquittal. film. and almost falling off my bike when I saw the giant film poster for Rendition. The epoch has shifted quickly in a good way. Coco Fusco’s Operation Atropos. Hasan Elahi with Tracking Transience. And now Jake Gyllenhal is in a Hollywood film about rendition.

The so-called united Muslim “ummah”. Doug: The objective conditions that produced your project have changed.that feeling has lessened. Those concepts started falling apart once you examine the incredible fractures of race. But the sense of isolation that we all had in 2002-04. In our initial (more) naive stage. power. And of course as people joined the group. Media Farzin wrote a review in Bidoun where she described our work as creating “enforced unity”. 36 . to keep making work about it. politics. probably similar to what you felt about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. class. “a group of Muslim activist-artists. we described ourselves as.There is still a need to keep talking about all this. Naeem: It shows even in how self-definitions have shifted. they challenged it: “Is this really necessary? Why?” Walid Raad punctured a lot of these identity-based constructions when I met him. and a lot of people are doing that.that no one is talking about this.” It’s an awkward and politically problematic construction.

should we have meetings. Is the collective then real or a construct? We’d meet infrequently and suddenly there would be an invitation to go and do something in Finland. working as a collaborative group. But precisely because of those dissonances. was that we made work that we would not have made otherwise. When we were in a group we were anything but certain.. I tend to be more certain about things. but soon we started doing email-based collaboration. Sehban moved back to Pakistan after the Queens Museum opening. the biggest thing for us.. And then people said. Doug: It’s why we’re slow when we collectivize. At the beginning. buried under his thesis. Sarah Olson was in San Francisco. We’re very slow. we were spending time together. Vivek was in the American Studies program at NYU. even though physically we’re not in the same place.At the end. I started wondering what it meant that all our work was being done by e-mail. 37 . Naeem: And it’s interesting to talk collective in the age of non-physicality. Working on my own. I was in Bangladesh researching a new project. we also couldn’t keep it going forever.

The link to Kristofer is through Timmy Aziz. Boom. and we were working at 3rd-i. whom we first met when she was giving this fiery speech outside a Not In Our Name protest rally outside Immigration Naturalization Service offices in San Francisco. I remember photographing her and 38 . He took Mutiny from a photocopied fundraiser for his film into this giant movement of Asian Underground music in New York (with DJ Rekha).” Because the cycle of invitations have their own logic. who ended up being our co-curator for the first Visible Collective project. Kristofer Dan-Bergman- who produces commercial photography projects. “Ok. Anandaroop Roy is this amazing self-taught cartographer.I think that was the time when we started saying. We were all together at the beginning. everyone from different worlds... Vivek Bald is the unsung hero of New York’s Asian Underground movement. a Bangladeshi architect based in New York. maybe it’s time to move on. beyond the group’s natural life. Which is also how I first worked with Prerana Reddy. and here he was photographing detainees in our satire of Gap jeans ads. a big motley crew. Like the Energizer bunny. boom. forcing it to continue. which was a monthly screening of South Asian independent films. Aimara Lin. boom.

thinking “whoa she’s fierce” And then we ran into each other at the anti-Republican National Convention protests and I said “You’re the girl outside INS!” The point is not a litany of cross connections... Pasternak. 2006 [3] Curated by Jaishri Abhichandani and Prerana Reddy as part of Fatal Love: South Asian American Art Now [4] All That is Solid Melts Into Air. This group could only get together in a city like New York.. to work well with others. Point is we worked together because we were friends.. D. and then we moved on. 1982 39 . [1] During Public Address. Doug: New York forces you to get together. organized by Gregory Sholette and others as part of Danish Arts Council project in New York. A. [2] Who Cares.. It was a productive and specific moment. and Ashford. essayists. Marshall Berman. Creative Time: New York .







Visible Collective (images)

Things pile up, database+flash animation, Liverpool FACT
Museum, Liverpool, 2005.

Driving While Black Becomes Flying While Brown, digital
print, Yerba Buena Center for Arts, San Francisco, 2006.

It’s Safe To Open Your Eyes Now, Part 1, digital print+spray
paint, Yerba Buena Center for Arts, San Francisco, 2006.

It’s About Who You Know & Who You Hang With, text
excerpt from Amitava Kumar, UC Irvine Gallery, Irvine,

I wanna be a supermodel, have my latte spilling as I get
frisked, email request loop, online project, 2006.

Lingering 20, digital video, Queens Museum of Art, New
York, 2004.

From: Rajiv Dabhadkar
Subject: Breach of Privacy !
Date: March 5, 2005 3:32 AM EST
Just wondering how come my name is listed in the site.. when I am alive and
featured in teh recent article on Could u please explain
regards, Rajiv Dabhadkar
ALIVE and Rocking in India

From: Rajiv Dabhadkar
Subject: Breach of Privacy !
Date: March 5, 2005 4:26:31 AM EST
I would like to check the credibility of the database of names that you have in
your site. And your method of authenticating the same before puttign information
online. I have found reference to my name in the database. And would like to
communicate my dislike towards the same. I am the founder of an organization of
software technology workers in America and though in India presently to work
build the organization basics, I’d very much like to arrive in the US. However,
am also in communication with individuals in Washington DC , and hence finding
my name amongst those dissappeared IN America is most humiliating. As a
reference, I have been featured in the LATEST issue of Computer World (print
as well as online) and will further the stake to
my credibility via documenting emails to those concerned within North America.
Looking forward to having my name removed from the database and an early
response Hurt deeply
Rajiv Dabhadkar
currently in Bombay (India)

From: Visible Collective
Subject: Re: Breach of Privacy !
Date: March 5, 2005 9:17:46 AM EST
Hi Rajiv
The list of names came from Migration Policy Institute’s list of men detained
since 9/11 Most likely it is another Rajiv. Have you ever been to the US? If
not, it is obviously someone else as it lists there place of domicile in the US as
-Naeem on behalf of Visible Collective

From: Visible Collective
Subject: Re: Breach of Privacy !
Date: March 5, 2005 10:25:05 AM EST
Mr. Rajiv
It is obviously someone else with the same name as this person is listed as
being 32 years old, and living in New Jersey prior to detention. If you have
never been to US, it is obviously not you. By the way, your name is not so
uncommon so entirely feasible that there is someone else with same name. The
source for all names in the database is a report by MPI:
America’s Challenge: Domestic Security, Civil Liberties, and National Unity
After September 11
Migration Policy Institute, 1400 16th Street NW, Suite 300, Washington DC

From: Rajiv Dabhadkar
Subject: Re: I am ALIVE
Date: March 5, 2005 11:38:48 AM EST
No..I havent been detained ever. I arrived back here with my own free will.
Could i receive the contact person at the Migration Policy Institute. I’d like to
recify this at source. Your effort will allow me to set a right course in life.

From: Visible Collective
Subject: Re: Breach of Privacy !
Date: March 5, 2005 11:45:19 AM EST
Hi Rajiv
The phone # was listed in the other e-mail I sent. If they take you off, let me
know and we will take it off our website as well. But just to be clear, we are
not for any closed borders. We are a group of artists and activists who have
been doing public art interventions around post 9/11 detention and profiling.
The list is part of a lightbox and wall print we created for a meditation on
the enormity of the security panic led civil liberties breakdown. If anything,
we are trying to start conversations that would make these sorts of profiling
unacceptable. Our project would never be “used” to keep anyone out, the
opposite in fact (if anything).

I began http://www.” he I Need to find the email address of the final point of contact. Co-workers started leaving him “out of the loop” on decisions. Would you mind doing a search under my name on google. our project opposes these arbitrary detentions. including Merrill Lynch and AT&T. was handcuffed and held in jail for several hours.” There is also a photo of you.not this immigration related thing again..nostops. he was fined $250 for an unpaid parking ticket.”. When MPI was compiling list of people who were detained after 9/11. We did some research and now understand how your name is on the list. “I’m completely shaken.Before his arrest... Dabhadkar worked for 2 years on short-term projects for several firms. So the purpose of including you in the project is a “Rajiv Dabhadkar” The 9/11 incident has not only affected me. .. He says office relations became more strained as economic woes mounted.From: Rajiv Dabhadkar Subject: Re: Breach of Privacy ! Date: March 5. But just to be clear. has a family and is looking for work. 2005 12:03:51 PM EST Sir. who has lived in the USA for 10 years. 2005 6:03:48 PM EST Hello Rajiv.. USA TODAY ran a story “Tech Workers Feel The Heat” (10/17/01) where your case was mentioned: Rajiv Dabhadkar was three blocks from his New Jersey home on Oct. When released. “What should I do?” he asks. Could u please help.. 2 when police motioned his car to the side of the road. not a negative. Though authorities gave him no reason for the seemingly harsh treatment. so it seems it was with your permission... Dabhadkar speculates he was hassled because of his ethnicity. I wanted a resolve.. Dabhadkar.The heightened security and anxiety have taken an emotional toll on workers like Dabhadkar. your name made it on the list based on this.. “They treated me as though I was non-existent because I wasn’t American. Rajiv From: Visible Collective Subject: Re: Breach of Privacy ! Date: March 5. “I’m at my wits’ end. a computer programmer from India here on an H-1B visa.

the other people who were caught in this unfair crackdown don’t even know about any other recourses or representations of their names in media they may or may not want. no need for apology. and with the events folloing in my personal life here... .com was actually a refernce made by me in my own personal life. You were absolutely right in your approach of the web site.. and it was traumatic. But I am thinking maybe we should discuss the whole experience in wider context in public.. Perhaps we can have an e-mail conversation. I apologise for having written a few emails to you in bad taste.. just that my mind chose to relive the bad memories . which could become an essay in the future. 2005 5:16:41 AM EST Respected Sir. Please accept my apologies ..From: Rajiv Dabhadkar Subject: Apologies from me ! Date: March 20..! Deep regards and with sincerity Rajiv Dabhadkar From: Visible Collective Subject: Re: Apologies from me ! Date: March 20. You being tech-savvy were able to find the website.! And I got uncomfortable at wrote those emails to you. a reference made on gogle. 2005 10:15 AM EST Hi Rajiv That is ok. I was being too self-centric in my feelings.

I am in Bombay.From: Rajiv Dabhadkar Subject: Request for response Date: November 17.i am in India presently.. and with a choice. I wish to clear my name of those detained in America. 2005 12:18:18 AM EST I’d very much like to meet up with you... 2005 12:57:20 AM EST were reprinted in Rethinking Marxism with his permission ..What are u involved with wrt the project?? Rajiv Rajiv Dabhadkar’s emails to info@disappearedinamerica. From: Rajiv Dabhadkar Subject: Re: Request for response Date: November 18. We have had communicated earlier... Who should i contact .

Following the exhibitions in these areas in the provinces of Barcelona and Tarragona (Spain). IDENSITAT sets itself up as a networked production and research space. in collaboration with Can Xalant. exploration of new forms of involvement and interaction in the social space. educational actions to detect local groups with which to work on the crossover between these projects and some of their activities. Matar and the county of Priorat). through the Priorat Art Centre. IDENSITAT07 Locals | Visitors The fourth edition of IDENSITAT. with the aim of promoting proposals for specific contexts.IDENSITAT is an art project that aims to offer mechanisms to help authors articulate creative proposals in the field of public space in relation to the site or territory. . gathers together the production projects carried out in each of the towns and areas taking part (Calaf. Following the third edition (2005-06). and documentary projects that function as works carried out in other contexts. along with exhibition formats. based in the field of art. based on the combination between open calls for projects and invitations. it was joined by the town of Manresa. some projects have become production activities. which bears the heading of Locals | Visitors. The set of activities is promoted through specific actions. For this edition. IDENSITAT was set up in Calaf in 1999. debates and workshops. by Visible Collective. such as the publication of this book. Manresa. Centre for Creation and Contemporary Thought. publications. and in the Priorat area. The set of activities it promotes is defined by project promotion. along with documentary projects carried out in other towns. the territorial network has been expanded with the development of projects in Mataró. which forms part of the project Disappeared in America.

org . Naeem Mohaiemen Cover Image: Fred Askew Published by: IDENSITAT Contemporary Art Association Director: Ramon Parramon General coordinator: Oriol Fontdevila Publication coordinator: Llorenç Bonet Translation: Lacorreccional Transcription: Sonia Finley Project selection board: Santiago Cirugeda | Amanda Cuesta | Alicia Murria | Ramon Parramon | Lorenzo Romito Educational actions: Quim Moya | Eva Quintana Exhibition: Núria Parés With the backing of: Ajuntament de Calaf | Ajuntament de Manresa | Generalitat de shobak. Centre de Producció i Pensament Contemporani de Mataró | Priorat Centre d’Art disappearedinamerica. Departament de Cultura i Mitjans de Comunicació | Diputació de idensitat.Author: Doug Ashford. Xarxa de Municipis Production of specific projects in Mataró and Priorat: Can Xalant.